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Thursday, 28 February 2008

HOW ROADS ARE PAID FOR

A number of people have asked me about roads, and asked where the money would come from to maintain and repair island roads if we were under the Thames-Coromandel District Council. The short answer is that it depends on the road.

Roads can be funded partly by the government via Land Transport New Zealand and partly by ratepayers, or completely by ratepayers.

If Land Transport is satisfied that maintenance and road-renewal to an existing road meets its criteria it contributes 43% of the cost, or if it is a new road 53%. The system, as you might expect, is complicated and involves priorities set by regional and local councils, and has to be deemed to have community approval (which means being on the annual or the long-term plan). But if the criteria are met, your local council has to find only 67% or 47% of the cost.

If the criteria are not met, or if the council wants to do road-works on its own bat, it must pay 100%.

Under Thames-Coromandel's system of governance, referred to in the posting before this, if the people want a road fixed or built they work through their community board, which recommends to the council what they want. At that point, if the work was not on Land Transport's list, the ratepayers would have to foot the entire bill, which may be via a targeted rate based on improved value, or from the council's overall budget, or from a loan.

Who pays the bills in the end is the same under Auckland and Thames-Coromandel: partly or wholly it is the ratepayer. It is the detail and the level of democracy that differ. Under TCDC you get more say, so roading projects are more likely to be on the annual or long-term plans and thus are more likely to receive funding from Land Transport.

If a council's processes under the heading of roads are what they should be--democratic and consultative--and are done in such a way that roads are made to qualify by being put on the annual/long-term plan/s they will be subsidised with government money. So if a council ends up paying 100% it could be accused of not being on the ball.

TCDC: STICKING TO THE PRINCIPLES

When Steve Ruru, the CEO at Thames-Coromandel District Council, did his masterly summing up (referred to in an earlier post) of all the issues in the subject the council was about to consider, it was most noticeable that he grounded it solidly in law, especially of course the Local Government Act 2002, and other law that was pertinent, and that he focused on section 14 of the LGA, which sets out the principles by which local authorities are meant to operate.

He also made clear, by referring back to it, that the elected had been grounded in s14 etc., at their induction.

Contrast that with Auckland's induction. It was not mentioned. Why let principles get in the way of policy?

The subsequent debate in the TCDC referred again and again to s14. They tried to make sure that they stuck to the principles laid down in law, in particular 'well-being.' The same word features on their website.

Section 14: Principles relating to local authorities
(1) In performing its role, a local authority must act in accordance with the following principles:
(a) a local authority should—
(i) conduct its business in an open, transparent, and democratically accountable manner; and
(ii) give effect to its identified priorities and desired outcomes in an efficient and effective manner:
(b) a local authority should make itself aware of, and should have regard to, the views of all of its communities; and
(c) when making a decision, a local authority should take account of—
(i) the diversity of the community, and the community's interests, within its district or region; and
(ii) the interests of future as well as current communities; and
(iii) the likely impact of any decision on each aspect of well-being referred to in section 10:
(d) a local authority should provide opportunities for Maori to contribute to its decision-making processes:
(e) a local authority should collaborate and co-operate with other local authorities and bodies as it considers appropriate to promote or achieve its priorities and desired outcomes, and make efficient use of resources; and
(f) a local authority should undertake any commercial transactions in accordance with sound business practices; and
(g) a local authority should ensure prudent stewardship and the efficient and effective use of its resources in the interests of its district or region; and
(h) in taking a sustainable development approach, a local authority should take into account—
(i) the social, economic, and cultural well-being of people and communities; and
(ii) the need to maintain and enhance the quality of the environment; and
(iii) the reasonably foreseeable needs of future generations.
(2) If any of these principles, or any aspects of well-being referred to in section 10, are in conflict in any particular case, the local authority should resolve the conflict in accordance with the principle in subsection (1)(a)(i).

FACT-FINDING VISIT TO THAMES-COROMANDEL

On Wednesday the 27th of February I was in Thames, watching the Thames-Coromandel District Council at work at its regular meeting. If everyone on the islands had seen what I saw, and knew what I have found out over the last few months about how things are done on the peninsula, and could bring themselves to look at it fairly and reasonably, set beside what Auckland dishes out to us, they would be enthusiastic too.

No, the TCDC is not perfect, the streets of Thames are not paved with gold, no one has wings and haloes, they are human and make mistakes, they have their tussles and quarrels, but compared with what we have it looks like paradise.

I could hardly believe my ears when I heard them decide to vote a community board chairman to a council sub-committee. They want boards' input! And when I heard, more than once, from different councillors, a request to refer things to a board for advice, input, consultation, or whatever, I was so suspicious (thank you Auckland for corrupting my mind) that I turned to the woman next to me in the public gallery, a chairman of a community board, and asked her if that was real, if they meant it, if they did it and took notice.

I also talked to her at lunchtime. As it happened she used to be on an Auckland City community board, so has long experience of both sides. I asked her if she wanted to go back to Auckland. 'No.'

Thames-Coromandel's boards virtually set the rates for their areas. They even decide what roading works are to be done. The Council might defer recommended works because of overall budgetary constraints, but the community boards are the ones who decide, at community level, with community input what the priorities are to be. The boards have deep and real input into annual plans, budgets, etc.

'You are like mini councils,' I said.

'Yes,' she replied.

Local government with good emphasis on local.

The mayor, Philippa Barriball, is impressive. So is the CEO, Steve Ruru. And there is obviously a good, smooth, respectful relationship between them. Philippa underlined the 'paradise' by saying it was not the best day for me to come, because the ugly issue of the marina at Whangamata came up. Inwardly I didn't agree with her. It was the best day, because they handled that issue impressively. Steve's setting out of the facts on the big screen in the light of the relevant laws was masterly. Their subsequent debate worked quickly to what seemed to me to be a good resolution along the way to preparing themselves to make a final decision when they have key information.

They did not argue to the man, they argued to the facts, even if the man at a given moment was not the most popular.

The staff too are helpful, they get information quickly, they return calls. And I am not even in their area.

The down-home style of the council building, the low-key council chamber, the island-like size of Thames (population 6756), the way the council meetings are conducted, and the friendly and obliging way the staff function would fit the islands like a glove. In any relationship the most important thing is understanding. They understand, because their minds and hearts are in the same place as ours. Auckland City's can never be.

I was treated in a very friendly way, and it was obviously no accident that my address to the council was put first on the agenda.

If Auckland operated like Thames-Coromandel, at both elected and employed level, there would be no petition to dump it.

Monday, 25 February 2008

RATES FACTS: WAIHEKE AND THAMES-COROMANDEL

There is much myth and misinformation claiming that rates on Thames-Coromandel are far higher than on Waiheke--'They would triple' was one assertion hurled at me.

None of it is true, as council and Quotable Value data proves. For 2006/2007 total council income on Waiheke was $15,103,000 and on Thames-Coromandel $61,969.000. Waiheke has 6425 properties, Thames-Coromandel 26,480. That works out at an overall average of $2350 per property on Waiheke and $2340 on Thames-Coromandel.

If you look just at the rates component of the two incomes, which was $10,436,000 on Waiheke and $40,828,000 on Thames-Coromandel, the average per property works out at $1624 on Waiheke and $1541 on Thames-Coromandel.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

GREAT BARRIER OBSERVATIONS

(This was originally written for Barrier Bulletin in response to letters condemning the petition to the Local Government Commission to transfer the Hauraki Gulf Islands and Great Barrier Island from Auckland City Council to Thames-Coromandel District Council.)

Having money showered on you by a city might be nice, and it is nice for those who get juicy contracts, but it has a dark side. Money attracts money. The more an island is citified with city money the more attractive it is to city people, not as a place to live but as a party pad, a holiday pad, a skite pad. Then other property values rise, so the permanent population falls. Speculators, who care nothing for Great Barrier or its people, add their malign pressure to valuations, which rise further, the permanent population falls further, and so on.

You could ask if Auckland is doing that deliberately, or if is happening by accident. But a more fundamental question is, does Auckland really care about Great Barrier? Is it doing what it is doing for Great Barrier and its people or for itself? And are its bureaucrats pushing for expenditure because they care about Great Barrier or because of all those rates-funded jaunts to the island?

And Auckland, being a city, looks at things with city eyes. It likes doing things to city standards, which means city-high costs. Do the islands really need those costly toys, or would far more modest ones be OK?

Judge Auckland by its effect. Great Barrier's population is now much less than it was--at the 1996 census it was 1131, in 2001 it was 1017, in 2006 it was 852, and some islanders say only about 500 live there now. So Auckland's money is not buying you a stable, Great-Barrier-style future. Great Barrier is being moved ever closer in character to what it is in law: an outpost of Auckland City. But in geography it is off the tip of the Coromandel Peninsula; in character it is much closer to the peninsula than the city. It makes sense for it to match in law what it is in geography and character. Only then can its character be preserved.

My interest in this is simple. People have the right to be happy, they have the right to self-determination, they have the right not to be dominated and ruled by interests that are not in their best interests. If the application to the Local Government Commission is successful I am sure things will be better for each island.

Misleading figures are being used about Thames-Coromandel's rates, with the implications that Great Barrier's would soar if the islands were under that council rather than Auckland.

There is an old story about four blind men walking along in a row who bumped into an elephant. The one who hit its trunk said, 'Ah, an elephant is very like a snake.' The one who hit its leg said, 'No, an elephant is very like a tree.' The one who hit its side said, 'No, an elephant is very like a wall.' The one who hit its tail said, 'No, an elephant is very like a rope.'

It is wrong to hold up a tail and pretend that it's an elephant. A tail used recently, for instance, was that the Peninsula's draft 2008/2009 plan would hike rates an average of 12.17%. The implication was that if Great Barrier was under Thames-Coromandel it would also have that pistol at its head. That is just not true, because of the way TCDC's rating system works.

First, only 19% of the rates on average are on the full value of your property, the capital value. Then come fixed charges for wastewater reticulation, water reticulation and rubbish collection. Then come targeted rates based on improved value. So if you have an older property with a house on it valued at $100,000, but speculators or city-pad types have pushed the capital value to a million, only 19% on average would be based on the million, most would be on the $100,000.

Second, the fixed charges apply only if you have those services. If you lived in Thames and had wastewater and water connected and rubbish-collection, you would get a rates increase of 17-19% if the 2008/2009 plan is approved. But if you lived somewhere that only had a rubbish-collection your charge would go from $102.72 to $109.16--so your rates would soar by the crippling sum of $6.44.

But because Great Barrier has no reticulated wastewater and water, and little rubbish-collection, it would have been little affected by any change in fixed charges. You would be in the same category as places on the peninsula that have no services and are expected to see a slight drop in rates.

An elephant is not a tail. The tales being told about rates are just that: tales.

GREAT BARRIER RATES AND AUCKLAND RATES

Auckland City Council's total income for 2006/2007 was $552 million. Its population in 2006 was 404.658. That makes the average income for every man, woman and child $1364.

Great Barrier had a population of 852 on census night 2006, and the rates are reported to have been $1.2 million. That makes an average per head of $1408. But the effective average is higher because the permanent population is lower than the census figure. Worse, the fact that Great Barrier has nothing like the services that Auckland City has on the mainland, such as wastewater and water reticulation and a comprehensive rubbish-collection, means that the figure is far higher in real terms.

Per head of population, Great Barrier pays its way.

Worked out as an average per property, again using the figure of $1.2 million given by Paul Downie (and assuming it to be correct), and using the figure of 1418 properties supplied by Quotable Value, the average is $846. It is impossible to work out a comparable figure for Auckland, because the figures are skewed by large chunks of industrial and commercial real-estate. The closest comparison has to be with Waiheke, where the average rates per property is $1624, or on Thames-Coromandel where the average is $1541.

But that definitely does not mean that Great Barrier's rates would soar to either figure if the islands were under the Thames-Coromandel District Council. The total rates-take need not change at all, unless Great Barrier's people, working through their community board, wanted it to. It would be their decision. And because so much of the rates under TCDC are based on improved value the rates load should be spread much more fairly. The rich should pay more; low- and middle-income brackets should not be hit so hard.

A long-term permanent resident on Great Barrier says that of the 1418 properties, only about 400 are permanently occupied. The other 1000 sit empty for most the year. Those figures were confirmed by the Department of Statistics, which found only 453 dwellings occupied on census night (7/3/2008). The preliminary draft reorganisation proposal, which is still being worked on and run past the TCDC, attempts to address that problem by including a higher rate where the postal address does not match the residential address and is not on the island. That it seems to me to be a very fair way of ensuring that those who do not contribute to the local economy but are a cost on it, compensate it by contributing with higher rates.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

MISLEADING REPORT ON THAMES-COROMANDEL'S RATES

The quotation published in Marketplace last week saying that the draft proposal for rates in Thames-Coromandel in 2008/2009 would see an average rise of 12.17% was highly misleading.

First, it should be emphasised that it is a draft, so it still has to go through public submissions before the council finalises the figures in mid year. Second, Thames-Coromandel's rating system, which makes heavy use of targeted rates that apply only to areas with particular services and projects, means that some people would experience only a slight increase in rates, and Jeremy in Thames-Coromandel's rates team says that some might even go down slightly, if they are in rural areas that have no council services.

It all depends on the services you receive. If you are in an urban area such as Thames or Whangamata, and therefore have wastewater and water reticulation connected, your rates would go up an average of 17-19% because you get all the service charges. But if the only service you receive is rubbish-collection, which is of course what would apply on the Gulf Islands, the draft rise is from an annual charge of $102.76 to $109.16. Less than $7.

Hardly a figure to fill anyone with dread. Except Chicken Licken.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

VALUES ON THE ISLANDS AND THE PENINSULA

Type of property...Count...Avrge Capital Value...Avrge Improvement Value

Waiheke Island & Rakino Island
------------------------------
Residential.............4579.......$564,587.....$157,812
Residential vacant.......938.......$332,773.......$1,456
Lifestyle................295.....$2,032,129.....$454,129
Lifestyle vacant.........153.....$1,406,837......$10,039
Commercial/Industrial....208.......$678,649.....$222,394
Horticulture/pastoral.....34.....$4,460,735.....$550,147
Other....................218.......$347,519.....$100,917

Total...................6425.......$635,127.....$147,284


Great Barrier Island
--------------------
Residential.............458........$369,640.....$121,508
Residential vacant......372........$199,575.......$1,718
Lifestyle...............188........$481,356.....$137,340
Lifestyle vacant........190........$301,789.......$2,079
Commercial/Industrial....29........$488,345.....$270,414
Horticulture/pastoral....28......$1,314,000.....$154,536
Other...................153........$308,895......$62,026

Total..................1418........$345,266......$73,458


Thames-Coromandel
-----------------
Residential..........17,682........$527,871.....$156,300
Residential Vacant....3,122........$376,221.......$3,346
Lifestyle.............1,871........$681,939.....$198,083
Lifestyle Vacant......1,115........$430,644.......$5,567
Commercial/Industrial...919........$878,707.....$388,396
Horticulture/Pastoral...558......$1,497,322.....$197,348
Other.................1,213........$372,875.....$111,527

Total................26,480........$542,288.....$141,741

ISLAND RATES AND PENINSULAR RATES

The rating system they have on the peninsula is designed to ensure that everyone except the rich are not rated out. If we were with Thames-Coromandel we would have that system, in which only an average 19% of your rates bill is a charge based on capital value, the rest is fixed charges (such as for rubbish), and charges based on improved value and land value. So big changes in capital valuations don't cripple you. For instance, if your rates bill was $1000 and your capital valuation for some reason went mad and doubled, your rates would go up only to an average $1190. On top of that their community boards have deep involvement in annual plans and setting budgets, and setting local rates, and I have insisted from the start in my talks with Thames-Coromandel that there be a financial firewall between the islands and the peninsula so that we are insulated from them and vica versa.

So people on Waiheke who are being socked by Auckland on its exorbitant capital values, but have modest improved values, will be better off. To put it another way, we can collect the same total in rates but with a much fairer balance.

That means, amongst other things, that comparing rates between Waiheke and, say, Coromandel is not comparing apples with apples. We will be deciding what we want in our budget, through our community board, and our rates will be set on that. Targeted rates for an item that one area wants are targeted to that area only, based on improved value. For instance, one area on the peninsula wanted a new library, another a swimming-pool. The council said yes, and set up a targeted rate only for that project, only in that area, based on improved value, so the cost of what the community wanted was spread fairly according to income.

One of my responsibilities under the Local Government Act 2002, as the proposer in this exercise, is to submit a draft reorganisation proposal when the application is formally made to the councils and on to the Local Government Commission. I have no wish to see the island worse off, and I am most anxious to ensure that low- and middle-income people are not hurt. My proposal, and my involvement at every point, will focus on making sure of that. I will not accept any reorganisation proposal that doesn't.

RATES PER HEAD ON WAIHEKE AND IN ALL AUCKLAND

The Auckland City Council's website shows that its total revenue for 2006/2007 was $552 million. The figures Gulf News dug out for us last year from the council using the official information legislation show that the total revenue for Waiheke Island was $15.1 million. Auckland's population in the 2006 census was 404,658. Waiheke's was 7689. Therefore the average rates per head over all of Auckland's administrative area was $1364. On Waiheke it was $1964. We pay our way.

In fact we more than pay our way, because we get fewer services than the mainland. We have no water or wastewater reticulation. So our share, proportionately, is even higher than the straight figures show.

ON TO THE LAWN NOT INTO THE FIRE

Those who think that going from Auckland to Thames-Coromandel would be out of the frying-pan into the fire are wrong. I agree that we must be careful. It has to be out of the frying-pan on to the lawn or nothing. But the Local Government Commission, in law, puts getting good local government at the top of its list, so the rigorous process is aimed at that. And I shall make sure, in my role in this, that that is what happens. I love this island, I don't want it go from bad to worse. Thames-Coromandel will not be perfect, just much better than Auckland.

Comparing rates bills is not comparing apples with apples because of Thames-Coromandel's targeted rates aimed at specific projects in specific areas. For instance, one area wanted a swimming-pool. So the council put in a targeted rate, just for that project, in just that area, based on improved value so that the cost was spread to match income. Other areas were not affected. Our costs would be ours, not theirs.

The argument in another article, which claimed that the 1000 commuters who travel to Auckland each day links us inextricably to Auckland, or as some say makes us a suburb, is spurious, because that leaves 6689 who don't commute. They stay here. A hefty majority. The 1000 is only 13%. So an argument based on the vote-with-our-feet is won by the island, not the city.

The same goes for the argument that we are tied to Auckland's economy and therefore have to be in it politically. Auckland's economic engine is important to the entire country, but that certainly does not make New Zealand subservient to Auckland or an Auckland suburb.

PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION TO THE LGC

The petition to the Local Government Commission to transfer the Hauraki Gulf Islands and Great Barrier Island from the administration of Auckland City Council and Auckland Regional Council to Thames-Coromandel District Council and Environment Waikato is gathering steam. For the application process to begin, signatures are needed from at least 10% of registered voters in the islands, which means ratepayers, who are automatically on the electoral roll, and residents who have registered on it. There are 6524 registered voters across the islands so 653 signatures is the minimum.

That will start the process, and it cannot be stopped by any of the councils involved. They have to go down the railway lines of law until the Local Government Commission hands down its ruling, for or against the transfer.

The more signatures the better because the bigger the petition the more weight it will carry with the Local Government Commission. I want to get at least 1000, preferably over 2000 and ideally well over 3000.

I intend being at the Ostend Market every Saturday from about 9:15 onwards, so look for me there if you want to add your voice to this application. There are also copies of the petition in other places on Waiheke: the jewellers' shop opposite the Lazy Lounge (where the jade carver used to be), the $2 shop underneath Gulf News, the shop at Little Oneroa, Stefano's, and the library.

As this posting is being written there are already 412 signatures counted, but that does not include any collected at the places above, or any collected on Great Barrier. 412 is 6.3% of the electorate, so there is not far to go. The target 10% will obviously be reached, so the application will go through.

If we don't ask the answer is no. If we do it may be yes. I think we have a good chance of getting the yes. We shall see. Please keep the signatures rolling in. Every single one counts. If you are not on the electoral roll, and want to participate, please register. Go to Elections New Zealand on 0800 ENROL NOW (0800 36 76 56) or www.elections.org.nz or email enrol@elections.org.nz

Saturday, 2 February 2008

MARRYING THE ISLANDS TO THE ALMOST-ISLAND

When Rudyard Kipling said 'East is east and west is west and never the twain shall meet,' he cannot have been thinking of islanders and mainlanders. Otherwise he would have used a stronger word than 'never.'

Islands are places apart, islanders are people apart. They march to the beat of very different drums. Mainlanders, especially the city sort, are what they are. They cannot help being like that, so we mustn't be too hard on them. But when they dominate our lives the result is 'Ouch!' Such as in the infamous Proposed 'Hauraki Gulf Islands' District Plan being rammed down our throats by The Machine.

They might, for a time, shower money on us, but we pay a high price for it. We lose our independence. 'He who pays the piper calls the tune.' And when the city is heading for a mega-city, and thinks it can be 'a world-class city', the tune is one that no one sane would call music.

The law says you have to have at least 10,000 people before you can have your own council. We have 8628, so we cannot have one of exactly our mind. The best alternative is to get as close as possible. We are islands, Thames-Coromandel is a peninsular--which means 'almost an island'--and we also have a similar outlook, geography, etc., and we are all immersed in the mis-named Hauraki Gulf Marine Park, so we have a community of interest in law.

That in essence is why, soon after I was elected to the Waiheke Community Board as the token maverick and rebel, I called the mayor of Thames-Coromandel, Philippa Barriball, to ask if her council would take us so that we could get shot of the The Machine.

That first forty minutes spoke volumes. At the induction seminars for community boards, John Banks said his door was open, and to make an appointment if we wanted to see him. I tried. Twice. I'm still waiting. With Philippa (that's what they call her--not The Mayor, or Her Worship), I just called 07/868-0200 and asked. I was put through to her very engaging personal assistant, Bev Bremner, who said she was out of the office but if I left a message she would get her to call back. Thirty minutes later she did. She turned out to be an intelligent, able, people-oriented person with a nice sense of humour.

She asked me to talk to the rest of her council (eight men apart from her). No one said no. Two said yes 100%, the rest ranged from 35-40% up to about 70%. Three quotations stand out. John Morrissey said 'You are the closest kin we've got', and Philippa, when talking about consulation, said, 'We like to go out and tap people on the shoulder.' When talking of the regional council, Environment Waikato, she said, 'We are very fortunate.'

It was such a relief not having to explain things, the way we have to, all the time, to city-siders.

Right from the beginning, to her and every councillor, I asked for four 'Big Ticket' items: (1) A high level of autonomy; (2) A financial firewall, so we won't get lumbered with peninsular stuff; (3) Shift the rating system to improved value, not capital value; (4) Scrap the Proposed 'Hauraki Gulf' District Plan.

The short answer was yes, but not quite as I anticipated, because they are interleaved.

A high degree of autonomy is partly taken care of by the list of delegations for their community boards. They are not the Rolls-Royce ones they have in Christchurch but they are a high-end BMW. And because community boards in Thames-Coromandel have heavy involvement in setting budgets, and indirect involvement in setting rates, the result is far, far more autonomy than under Auckland. And in democracy self-determination is percentages. At the moment the islands have 2.2% of registered electors (6524 out of 285,779). If we were with Thames-Coromandel we would have 23.3% (6524 out of 6524+21,472=27996). Ten times the clout. They now have nine councillors, so we could expect to have three: one for Great Barrier and two for that other island. Plus an islands councillor on the regional council.

The financial firewall and the rating system are also interleaved and have a bearing on autonomy. Thames-Coromandel studiedwhat happened in Noosa, north of Brisbane, where rates went stratospheric and everyone left but the rich, leaving no one to do the work. So they have to pay $25 an hour to people to serve coffee, and pay $7 a cup. Thames-Coromandel does not want it community destroyed like that, so after the 'tapping on the shoulder' they have a rating system in which only 19% of your bill is a general rate on capital value. The rest is fixed charges for stuff like rubbish, and targeted rates all based on on improved value. So when your capital valuation goes to the moon your rates don't follow because only 19% of your bill is affected. For example, a $1000 bill would only go to $1190 even if your valuation doubled.

The targeted rates might be things that covered the whole district, or things that a particular community wants. For instance, one community wanted a swimming-pool, another a new library. The council said yes, and put in a rate for just that project in just that community, based on improved value. So the low- and middle-income don't get socked but the community gets what its people want.

That system is also part of the reason why the proposed district plan would be scrapped, on top of the obvious that Thames-Coromandel would not want to take over Auckland's shemozzle, because if we were to continue with a humungous series of hearings, at great cost, the whole mess would have be paid for by a targeted rate on us, so our community boards would vote to scrap it to avoid being lynched. A very nice democratic feedback loop.

Life with the peninsular would not be heaven on earth. Just better than life with a city.

Can it happen? Yes. Philippa did not know the process, and calling Local Government New Zealand, which did not know either and directed me to the Local Government Commission (LGC), the statutory body that decides which local bodies we have and where their boundaries will be.

Donald Riezebos, the LGC's CEO floored me by saying, 'You don't have to ask the councils.' He said there are three ways of starting an application to the LGC to move a boundary. In our case, Auckland City Council could ask, or the Thames-Coromandel District Council, or a petition, organised by 'the proposer' (me in this case), signed by only 10% of the registered electors: 653 from all the islands.

Then a rigorous process of consultation and submissions begins (see the PDF on www.lgc.govt.nz), which cannot be stopped by any council. They have to go down the railway-lines of the law whether they like it or not till the LGC rules one way or the other (up to twelve months later). Its main concern is to make sure we get good local government.

I think we have a good chance. So please sign the petition when you see it about (on Waiheke at the Saturday market, or the Citizens' Advice Bureau or ask for it at the Placemaker's counter; on Great Barrier on some shop-counters). The more signatures we get above that 10% the more likely it is that the Local Government Commission will say yes and we'll be free of The Machine.

NEW AUCKLAND REGIME WILL NOT BE GOOD FOR WAIHEKE

The Royal Commission has three excellent people, and I am sure they will do a good job, but they will not be running the new regime, whatever it is. That will, as always, be the bureaucrats. As Franz Kafka neatly put it: 'After the dust of revolution has settled there arises the slime of a new bureaucracy.'

And the new bureaucracy will certainly not be smaller than Auckland's. It will be another empire, with many of the same people, and therefore the same dominate-the-gulf-islands mentality. The battle against their mindset will continue.

The only way the islands can achieve the separation in administration that they have in geography is to have an administration that is separate physically and mentally from the city-side mainland. That must also mean one that is not big enough to dominate.